D.C. restaurateurs Ian and Eric Hilton import their 7-year-old Mexican mainstay off U Street NW to the Ballston Exchange project on Monday, December 20 (4201 Wilson Boulevard), with daily lunch, dinner, and late-night service out of the gate. Hours are Sunday to Thursday, from 11 a.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
El Rey capitalizes on America’s birria taco boom with an entire section devoted to the cheesy, beefy dish dunked in cups of greasy consomme. Variations include a torta, burrito, quesadilla, and papas birria nachos described as “Mexican cheese fries with all the extras.”
There are 10 types of tacos to choose from, each served on flour or corn tortillas ($3-$4). A “DC Taco” piles on panko-coated fried chicken breast strips, crispy potato frites, homemade mambo sauce, and cilantro. El Rey Ballston debuts a lineup of tortas featuring proteins like shrimp, al pastor, and chicken Milanese.
The D.C. taqueria’s sophomore location stars a 50-foot bar spanning the length of the dining room, outfitted with multiple margarita stations to pour six options by the glass or pitcher. There’s a frozen mezcal variety, Paloma, and “Lucha Libre” (jalapeño-infused Hornitos Plata, mango, triple sec, lime juice and agave nectar), served on the rocks or frozen.
The beer list shows love for Mexican and local breweries, with a dozen on tap and eight by the bottle that can be turned into a michelada for $1 more. The bar also serves spiked Mexican hot chocolate, wines, and sangrias.
El Rey patrons can swing by a separate takeout area called Lucha Libre for grab-and-go orders. Local artist Mike Pacheco spruced up cement walls with animated accents out of a graphic novel.
Arlington’s taco scene got an additional boost this month with the arrival of NYC’s trendy Mexican chain Tacombi in National Landing.